A Brief History of the Periodic Table

Essay by eserkinHigh School, 11th gradeA+, April 2004

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Virtually all science classrooms will have at least one common thing posted on their walls; a poster of the periodic table. The periodic table is simply a chart of all known elements, arranging them as defined by periodic law; it orders the elements by increasing atomic number, displaying the periodicity of chemical and physical properties in the elements. The first contributions to the periodic table were made in antiquity, with the discovery of obvious elements such as gold, silver, tin, copper, lead and mercury. In 1649, the first scientific discovery of an element occurred in 1649 when Hennig Brand discovered phosphorous. Many other elements were later discovered; a total of 63 elements existed by 1869. By observing the growing list of elements, scientists were able to observe patterns in properties, beginning to develop schemes for classification. The chart used today arranges the elements by increasing atomic number. Each element in the table is represented by its appropriate chemical symbol, along with its atomic number, atomic weight, and electron configuration.

Sometimes, more complex tables contain the element's atomic diameter/radius, common valence numbers or oxidation states, melting/boiling point, density, specific heat, stable/radioactive isotopes, type of magnetism, and other details about each element. This chart is often referred to within the classroom; in fact, it is essential to modern day science. Through the work of numerous scientists throughout history this important table exists today.

The French geologist A.E. Béguyer de Chancourtois is credited with creating the first ordering of the elements demonstrating their periodicity, published in 1862. De Chancourtois made a list of all the elements in order of increasing atomic mass and arranged them on a cylinder- which he called the telluric helix- where exactly 16 mass units could be written per turn, so that closely related elements lined up in vertical...